To transform our communities for the better, many nonprofit leaders ask themselves this question: How do we get people to connect with our mission?
Many times, nonprofits hope to ignite change by sharing figures and statistics:
- There are 5,111 unhoused persons in the District of Columbia.
- There are 107,000 people in the United States on the waiting list for a life-saving organ transplant.
- Just 32% of children in Philadelphia can read at grade level.
Are these statistics powerful? Of course. But do they ignite an emotional connection between you and the individuals impacted by these organizations? Probably not.
Sometimes, it's hard for human brains to grasp such insurmountable numbers—it almost creates a disconnect between ourselves and the issue at hand.
However, when we hear first-hand accounts of these same issues, we suddenly feel a personal connection to the story.
And that, is the power of nonprofit storytelling, which can make long-time and new supporters alike feel an emotional connection to your cause. Below, we'll explain what nonprofit storytelling is, and how you can leverage it to advance your mission.
What is nonprofit storytelling, anyway?
Nonprofit storytelling uses personal narratives to create a connection between your supporters and your cause. These stories can be told in first or third person, and they involve real people or situations.
Storytelling should play a central role within your engagement marketing strategy—use it to encourage an emotional response, action, or other behavior. Storytelling is an effective communication technique for several reasons:
- Stories are memorable: Dates, figures, and statistics can be hard to remember. But how often do you forget a compelling story? Not often. Data doesn't invoke an emotional response unless we connect it to a story.
- Stories create human emotion: It's easy to write off stats and figures because there are no faces, lives, or names associated with them. Stories pull on our heartstrings because we imagine what our lives would be like if we were placed in a similar situation.
- Stories inspire people to act: Because a great story can cause powerful emotions—including rage or devastation—people are more likely to take immediate action (potentially by donating to your cause).
You can use stories anywhere in your nonprofit communications strategy, including social media posts, blog content, website testimonials, podcast episodes, or your annual report. In fact, it's good practice to use a number of different channels to connect these personal stories with as many donors as possible.
5 tips for nonprofit storytelling
Effective storytelling leverages real-life narratives to create a personal connection with your cause. If you're looking to use storytelling as part of your overall nonprofit marketing strategy, follow these six tips (and see how various nonprofit organizations are putting them into action):
1. Find your character(s) 👯
The best stories are told by and about real people.
As a nonprofit organization, there is no shortage of people who are personally connected with your cause. Reach out to those whose lives have been directly impacted by your organization. Ask if you can interview them for 20-30 minutes, asking about their lives before and after they found your organization.
Charity: Water is a nonprofit organization that aims to bring clean, safe drinking water around the world. Nonprofit storytelling is a key component of their overall content strategy—they share testimonials, quotes, and interviews regularly on their blog. Some stories are multiple paragraphs long, while other posts contain round-ups with photographs and 1-2 sentences from individuals impacted by their organization.
2. Share the faces of your stories 📷
A well-written story can have a profound impact on your supporters. However, if you want to transform a good story into a great one, consider adding photographs, video, or other media. Visual storytelling allows your supporters to feel as though they personally know those connected to your cause.
The U.S. Holocaust Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution, fills over 90% of its Instagram posts with personal narratives. Each post contains a photo of a survivor or someone who lost their life during the Holocaust. The corresponding caption contains a documented history of the individual or family, ensuring no one forgets the real people who lost their lives in the largest genocide in human history.
3. Start with your founders 👋
More often than not, people start their own nonprofit because they have a personal connection with the cause. So, when looking to share stories across your communication channels, speak with your founders about sharing their own stories.
Pencils of Promise, a New York-based nonprofit that helps build schools around the world, shares how the organization got its start on its about page. The founder shares the story of backpacking in India when he asked a child what he wanted most in the world. The child replied with, "a pencil," which led the founder to travel to 50 countries worldwide, handing out pencils, pens, and other supplies, and eventually building 550 schools.
4. Don't be afraid to repurpose content ✍
Here's a tip that's relevant across all marketing tactics—not just nonprofit storytelling: Repurpose content across a wide variety of channels.
If you record a 30-minute interview with someone impacted by your organization, transcribe that interview into a blog post. Then, compress that blog post into two short paragraphs to make a social media caption. Later on, if you host a webinar, consider including a quote from the individual within your testimonials slide.
Amnesty International, a nonprofit helping defend human rights around the world, does an excellent job of repurposing content. They write educational posts on Instagram, then use a linkin.bio link to guide supporters to learn more through Amnesty Academy—online courses that offer in-depth lessons about issues around the world.
5. Show how a donation can make a real impact 💣
The nonprofit sector works everyday to combat some of the world's biggest injustices and largest problems. Unfortunately, many potential donors might look at these issues and think, "What difference will my donation really make?"
As we all know, a number of small donations add up to create a big impact in our communities. To demonstrate this to your supporters, make impact stories a key component of your marketing strategy. With impact storytelling, you'll draw a direct line between a donor's contribution, and the change they made.
Watsi, a digitally focused health nonprofit, makes impact storytelling a key part of their messaging strategy. With Watsi, each landing page shares a new story with someone who needs access to medical treatment. For example, this page shares the story of Canthy, a taxi driver from Cambodia who needs $229 for cataract surgery.
Launch your nonprofit storytelling strategy on Givebutter
Nonprofit storytelling is an effective marketing technique that uses real stories to help create a personal connection with your cause.
With storytelling, nonprofit professionals share the experiences of their founders, volunteers, or those whose lives have been directly impacted by their organization.
To make storytelling a central part of your fundraising campaign, be sure to share the stories, photos, and videos of characters within your organization. Repurpose stories into a number of different marketing channels, and show how a small donation can make a real impact within your community.
To get started with nonprofit storytelling, launch your campaign on Givebutter. Givebutter is the always-free, modern, donor-centric fundraising platform that helps ignite the changemaker in all of us. With a built-in CRM platform, marketing automation tools, and over 130+ fundraising tools, Givebutter can help you share your nonprofit story and get you one step closer to your mission.
Ready to see how Givebutter can help you share better stories? Take a tour today.
Kylie thrives on supporting others, making everyone’s jobs easier, and cinnamon in her coffee.